Descendants of slave Isaac Hawkins and officials gather at the National Press Club in D.C. for a meeting to discuss reparations on Jan. 17. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Descendants of slave Isaac Hawkins and officials gather at the National Press Club in D.C. for a meeting to discuss reparations on Jan. 17. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

In 1838, Georgetown University escaped financial ruin through the monetary gain of sold-slaves. Now, the descendants of those slaves are seeking reparations.

During an intimate press conference at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Jan. 17, direct descendants of Isaac Hawkins, one of the 272 slaves who were sold, participated in a panel discussion that launched a series of events to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the 1838 slave sale.

The descendants voiced their frustration and vision for full atonement by the Jesuits and Georgetown.

“It blew my mind completely,” said Dee Taylor, 70, of Baton Rouge, La., who learned of her ancestors two years ago. “When I went deeper into our family’s history, what I learned is that one of the slaves was only 10 years old when they put him on that ship to Louisiana. I look at my 12-year-old grandson and think about that 10-year old child. I get emotional thinking about it.”

Isaac Hawkins was 65 years old at the time of his sale and his name was first on the ship manifest that carried the GU272 from Maryland to Louisiana cotton plantations.

Now, members of his lineage are pressuring the university to provide tangible equity to those descendants, including earmark scholarships and compensatory funds.

A Georgetown spokesperson said the university is taking strides to make amends for its role in the slave trade.

“Georgetown has taken initial steps to seek reconciliation,” the spokesperson said. “Beginning with offering a formal apology to descendants; renaming two buildings, including one for Isaac Hawkins, the first person named in the 1838 sale; and offering descendants the same consideration in admissions that it gives members of the Georgetown community. Georgetown and the Jesuits are committed to working with descendants in a process that recognizes the terrible legacy of slavery and promotes racial justice in southern Louisiana, southern Maryland and throughout the nation.”

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia also reportedly gave reference to the fact that African-American families including the Hawkins descendants are 228 years from accumulating the same amount of wealth as White American families, leaving Georgia Goslee, lead counsel for the 200 of the direct descendants, to question the strength of the university’s offers and their validity.

“Georgetown is an elite, prestigious and wealthy international research university,” Goslee said. “It owns 54 buildings and spans 10 acres with plans for massive expansion in the heart of D.C. and a permanent capital exceeding $1 billion. … The institution talked about creating a center to study slavery … but how could you? How could you really study the pain and humiliation of slavery?

“The question today is not whether Georgetown can afford to provide restitution, but whether the school’s actions so far are commensurate with the epic atrocity, and whether the moral compass of Georgetown’s leaders will carry them to a higher ground,” Goslee said.

In June, the GU272 Isaac Hawkins Legacy presented Georgetown with an extensive formal proposal; however, to date, they have not received a formal response, despite many meetings with high-ranking officials, much to the despair of Georgetown associate professor Thomas Craemer, who worked with the legal team to calculate their clients’ monetary claim against the Jesuits of Maryland and Georgetown University.

“I am originally from Germany,” Craemer said. “I moved to the United States 17 years ago as a dual citizen and, of course, coming from Germany with our own history of the Holocaust, it was only a natural fit that I would be interested in slavery reparations. Germany paid reparations, they came in small and sometimes late, but they paid.”

Lauren M. Poteat

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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